|Hornets return to New Orleans much different than when they left|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 01 October 2007 18:58|
And for the first time since the fall of 2004, players reported for training camp Monday with the expectation of spending an entire season playing home games in one city - the one written across the front of their jerseys.
Now there's the matter of getting everyone who lives here to notice that the Hornets have moved back from their temporary digs in Oklahoma City, as star point guard Chris Paul found out after settling into his new downtown condominium in the Big Easy.
``Man, there's a lot of places I still go where people are like, 'So how many games y'all playing here this year?' and I'm like, 'We're here full-time,''' Paul said. ``A lot of times you see Saints stuff everywhere and I'll be like, 'Just (put) a Hornets banner here or there.'''
The Hornets have played just nine games in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. Those games were well attended, but there are countless doubters who question whether a city that has lost about 200,000 residents since the storm can support an NBA team for a full 41-game home slate.
Team owner George Shinn calls himself an optimist and insists his gut tells him he did the right thing by returning with the hope of spurring a historic city's recovery. But the transition hasn't always gone smoothly.
As of right now, around 250,000 residents in St. Tammany Parish, one of New Orleans' wealthiest and fastest growing suburbs on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, won't be able to see the Hornets on TV. Cox Sports, which broadcasts the games, is at an impasse over rights fees with Charter Communication, the only cable company in St. Tammany.
Meanwhile, the Hornets have sold fewer than 6,000 season tickets, with a goal of reaching 10,000 - or the equivalent through a combination of partial-season plans - at some point this season.
Shinn has been accepting about every public speaking engagement he can get, often arguing that failing to support his team could potentially hurt New Orleans' reputation.
``The national media is already calling me an idiot for wanting to come back here,'' Shinn said. ``They're going to be looking for those holes (of unfilled seats) and they're going to be blasting us. ... So let's embrace this thing and make it work.''
The Saints sold out about 70,000 seats in the Louisiana Superdome for their first two seasons back after a one-season absence. If the Hornets could get a little more than half that many fans to buy an assortment of 10-game plans on top of what they've already sold, they'd have good crowds in the 18,000-seat New Orleans Arena. Otherwise, they'll have to hope for big single-game sales.
The good news for the Hornets is that they've sold a large portion of premium club seats, as well as nearly 50 of their 56 private suites, which bring the most revenue.
The Hornets also are counting on the 2008 NBA All-Star game here to raise their profile locally.
And then there's the matter of winning.
During the first three seasons the Hornets played in New Orleans, they weren't all that great. They were right around .500 their first two season, good enough to make the playoffs before bowing out in the first round both times. During the third season, Jamal Mashburn retired prematurely because of knee problems, center Jamaal Magloire went out with a broken finger, and point guard Baron Davis became unhappy and ultimately was traded as the Hornets became an 18-64 team.
Among the league's worst teams on the court, the Hornets also were last in attendance.
This season, if the Hornets stay healthy, they'll have a handful of established big-name players on the floor, including two - guard Chris Paul and center Tyson Chandler - who have played for Team USA in the past two years. Joining them in the starting lineup will be veteran sharp shooters Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson, as well as emerging forward David West, who is the only player remaining from the 2004-05 squad.
With a lineup like that, coach Byron Scott expects the Hornets to be in the playoffs - far better than they were the last time they played a full schedule in New Orleans, which also was Scott's first season as Hornets head coach.
``We made a bunch of changes because we knew we had to,'' Scott recalled of his first season in New Orleans. ``And I think when we did that, you probably lost some of your fans because you're losing every night. So we bring back a different cast this year - a much better cast. So fans will start coming back.''